Anyone who cherishes them must surely be appalled by this.
A few weeks ago during the discussion of Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, someone posted a rather irritated comment complaining of the way Dreher sneered at NASCAR and Gretchen Wilson (a country or country-pop singer whom I’ve never heard her as far as I know). I was pretty sure that the commenter was confusing Dreher with someone else, as I had heard the blogosphere echoes some time earlier of an attack by a conservative on conservative populism, as exemplified by a taste for NASCAR and Gretchen Wilson’s music. But since I hadn’t yet finished Crunchy Cons, it was possible that I was wrong, nor had I read the piece which I thought was actually the culprit, so I didn’t go any farther than suggesting the possibility that the commenter was mistaken.
I thought of this after I finished CC, which indeed contains nothing at all about NASCAR or Gretchen Wilson, and went looking for the anti-populist piece. Turns out it’s by Mark Gavreau Judge, who writes for the American Spectator and is also the author of a well-regarded book (which I have not read) called God and Man at Georgetown Prep. Here’s the article in question.
Now, let me say first that I have some sympathy with Mr. Judge’s fundamental point, which is that there’s nothing admirable about crudity. I even share some of his opinions about the militantly sloppy way people tend to dress these days, and I haven’t even owned a pair of jeans since the ’70s, when I suddenly realized I was sick of seeing them and they weren’t really even all that comfortable. (This does not make me well-dressed. My mode of dress can probably best be described as nondescript, with a tendency toward shabbiness.) I have zero interest in NASCAR, and I prefer my country music straight up.
But, man, does he ever choose some bad ways to make that point. So I have to say:
–To hear a man talk about "pampering" himself is a bit creepy to me–to say nothing of his calling himself a "metrosexual."
–A young mother with a baby on her hip is one of the sweetest sights this world has to offer, regardless of whether she’s wearing shoes or not.
–If I thought being a conservative had anything whatsoever to do with "pour[ing] out the Old Spice and [going] to Nordstrom’s for a bottle of Truefitt and Hill of London," I would never stand for having the term applied to me, much less apply it to myself.
UPDATE: Mr. Judge revisits the topic and makes a much better job of it.
Thomas Storck sent me this link to an interesting conversation about Tony Blair’s conception of Anglo-American values. I put off posting it for a couple of days because I hadn’t finished reading it. I still haven’t, but it’s Holy Saturday and I’m not going to have a chance to for another couple of days, so thought I would go ahead and post the link for anyone interested. I happen to have a pretty strong attachment to the Anglo-American spirit and think it’s the source of much that is good in our culture (and much that is not, obviously), and it’s depressing to see what it’s come to. Appropriately, I ran across a great line from the English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald the other day in Crisis, something about "the English genius for irreligion." Although there have been rumors going about for some time that Blair may be about to become a Catholic.
The phrase is Chesterton’s, and Dawn Eden cites it in announcing her entry to the Church, and it seems appropriate in that paradoxical way of all things Catholic: the religion with some of the strangest doctrines is also especially the friend of the homeliest things. I don’t know when I have seen grace so plainly in action as while watching Dawn’s progress toward becoming a Catholic over the past couple of years. I join the many who welcome you to the company, Dawn.
Read more of her account of Holy Week here and here. I particularly recommend the second one, an account of the Stations of the Cross in the streets of Manhattan. It’s enough to make this determinedly provincial fellow wish he had been there.
On Palm Sunday, in the middle of the Divine Liturgy, dazzling in its beauty, my three year old daughter, Maria, turned to me and asked "Is this Heaven?"
Yes, I told her, on Sundays we get to visit Heaven.
A lot has been written about the beauty of the Byzantine Liturgy, but Maria’s wonder sums it up better than any scholarly tome.
The traditional Latin liturgy has a very different, if still transcendent, spirit. Restrained rather than exuberant, meditative rather than ecstatic, it possesses a different, Western sensibility.
I have often remarked that the Western liturgical tradition is one designed by grown ups: a direct, no nonsense, focused approach to God.
The East, on the other hand, has a liturgy that seems to be made up by children. Is something worth doing? Then do it over and over again. I think of Chesterton’s comment that God is like a child in this regard. If an adult is performing some act that delights a child, like tossing the child up into the air, the adult’s arms will ache before the child becomes bored. "Do it again!" is the child’s tireless refrain. And so, Chesterton says, God makes the sun rise day after day, saying "Do it again!" in His delight.
And so the Byzantine liturgy. The West, businesslike, opens and closes the Mass with the sign of the cross. In Byzantine liturgy, we cross ourselves over and over, every time the Holy Trinity is invoked. Prayers and petitions are repeated, the phrase "Lord have mercy" a refrain throughout the Liturgy.
There is a childlike sensibility, too, in the Byzantine approach to the senses. Do we have incense burning? Yes, of course: incense is used at every Divine Liturgy, not just on feast days, and the sweet smell delights our senses even in Lent.
But this evidently wasn’t enough. What else can we do? "I know," someone said, deep in our history, "Let’s add some bells to the censer!" And so they did, and the sound of jingle bells accompanies the act of censing to this day.
I have heard it said that the spirit of the West and the spirit of the East are incarnate in their respective archetypal architectural forms: the spire for the West, and the dome for the East.
The spire is masculine, reaching upward, piercing the sky, transcending the earth. The interior of the archetypal Western Church draws the heart, the mind, the eyes upward. God is transcendent.
The dome is feminine, womblike, enwrapping and overshadowing the congregation. Traditionally the interior of the dome bears the image of Christ the Pantocrator, the ruler of all, His gaze enveloping the worshipers. God is immanent.
Like most generalizations, this is no doubt an oversimplification, but there is truth in it.
This difference in sensibility is reflected, too, in the forms of traditional chant which accompany the liturgy.
In the West, Gregorian chant is austere and severe, otherworldly. When I was in a Gregorian schola we were taught to sing without stress or emotion, deliberately ethereal.
Eastern chant, though is emotionally rich and expressive, whether Slavic, Arabic, Greek, or Romanian. Slavonic hymns about the Passion are mournful, dirgelike, spooky. Hymns about the Mother of God are sweet, tender, loving.
It is not that one or the other of these very different ways of worship is superior, contrary to the claims of some of their partisans. The West, with its restraint, and the East, with its celebratory excess, can both bring the soul to God. While I have embraced the intoxicating exuberance of the Christian East, I
recognize and remember the beauty of the West.
It is easy for me to imagine a little girl, surrounded by the ethereal sound of Gregorian chant, gazing at the distant and mostly silent priest, turning to her father in awe to whisper Maria’s question: "Is this Heaven?"
What I can’t imagine is a child doing this in the banal liturgies which have replaced the austere solemnity of the traditional West in many modern Roman Catholic churches.
I am not painting with too broad a brush here; I recognize that the so-called Novus Ordo rite is capable of beauty and transcendence. But too often the rude tribe of modern liturgists has rejected the traditional restraint of the West and replaced it, not with the celebratory sense of the folkways of,
well, folks, but with a need for novelty and stimulation apparently acquired from the entertainment industry. The child, watching the glad-handing game show model of priest, and the earnest but ersatz folk singer with his Tin Pan alley hymns is more likely to wonder "Is this Broadway?"
It is evident to me that any form of worship which does not evoke Maria’s Question, or at least aspire to do so, is hardly worthy of being called "worship" at all. Worship is a great Mystery, suffused with Beauty, and it shouldn’t take an act of blind faith to believe this.